In anticipation of the upcoming NZ International Comedy Festival, Tom Sainsbury talks to Oliver Hall about Taika Waititi’s impact, Katy Perry’s disgust, Daniel Radcliffe’s smoking, and why he recommends sperm donation.

Tom Sainsbury is booked and busy. “It’s the slog at the moment,” he tells us, talking to express the week before he heads to LA to pitch three ‘very camp’ comedy shows to various networks.  “Just hawking my wears,” he laughs. 

Last time he was there he experienced the LA gay scene when a friend took him to the legendary club, The Abbey. “I walked around feeling very insecure because they’re all gym bunnies and look like the healthiest people in the world,” he exclaims. 


Last time he had a meeting that seemed to go very well with HBO Max, until the following day when they announced they were merging with Discovery and dropping their completed Batgirl movie starring Oscar-winner Brendan Fraser, entirely.

“The guy I met with called me and said he was sorry but they wouldn’t be buying anything and were instead going to just focus on Shark Week,” he says, still clearly bemused. 

But despite these setbacks, Tom tells us the land of the free is still a great place for Kiwis. “There’s so much work around like there’s this script punch ups, which is when you get a written script and then you just go through it and you add comedy to it,” he explains.

So why is Hollywood keen to offer Kiwis this kind of work? Tom puts it down to the success of one man, Taika Waititi. 

“He’s definitely opened up doors for Kiwis. They will employ a New Zealander so that you can put the Taika stamp of comedy on top of a script that exists already,” Tom adds.

Even if no one picks up Tom’s new original scripts, he knows the trip with give him plenty of funny stories to us in his up-and-coming NZ International Comedy Festival Show Gone Bananas. His previous trips have already generated material around his rental car (which got broken into three times, and meeting Katy Perry in Las Vegas after driving through the scorching desert over from LA.

“I have never been so hot! I was beetroot red and sweating everywhere. When we had our photo together, I rested my face against hers. She looked at me and said, ‘Yuck! You sweated all over me!’” He says, describing his celebrity fail. 

Tom managed to make a better impression on Dante Radcliffe, whom he co-starred with pre-pandemic, in the 2019 film, Guns Akimbo.

“I had the tiniest part and he still managed to ruin my first take from laughing so loud. I’m going to carry, making Harry Potter laugh, in my heart until I die,” laughs Tom, salaciously adding that Radcliffe was, “a real character. He smoked between every take. He’d lite up a cigarette and take a drag like his life depended on it!”

Tom admits that since then the pandemic has affected the way he approaches his creativity, producing far fewer plays and group shows.

“I hate to admit it, but the stress of producing in the time of COVID and lockdowns took its toll. We did this dance show and lost our main character on opening night because they tested positive and it all turned into this mad dash. I’ve done a lot more solo stand-up shows since because I’ve only got to rely on myself.”

The last stand-up show I had seen of Tom’s featured a wild segment where he described in detail his sexual experiences from hook-up apps like Tinder.

“I’m much more prudish now,” he says cringing. “I can’t believe I talked about things like spitting in people’s mouths – especially the night my mum and dad were in the fuckin’ audience!” 

We descend into cackles!

Now a more settled man. Tom has been in a relationship with his partner Jacob for four years.

He has two children with a lesbian couple to whom he donated sperm, which he describes as, “the ideal situation!” 

“It’s like being an uncle. You get them for the fun times, and then you can hand them over when they have trouble going to bed because they’ve been running round the backyard overloading on sugar.”

He recommends sperm donation as something more Kiwi men should be considering. “When I was doing there were only seven donors in all of New Zealand, so they could 100% do with more.”

While casual sex (and spitting) may be out, Tom assures Gone Bananas will still fill us with a large portion of observational comedy from a very Kiwi lens. 

“These days I open my shows by sharing some of my favourite comments that I’ve read on community board and city council Facebook pages. Everyone gets so angry at the City Councils, it gives you such a good insight into people. I’ll follow that with a bit about me teaching drama to kids at the Little Howick Theatre to kids and a big chunk of my time in Hollywood too. So character observations and my own embarrassing life stories.”

While Gone Bananas will visit Auckland and Wellington as part of the festival, the capital is extra lucky as they will get to witness Tom co-host a one-night-only extravaganza, Loud & Queer, a showcase of Aotearoa’s best rainbow comedians, co-hosted by legendary express columnist Judy Virago at the St James Theatre on Saturday 20 May.

For Tom, Loud & Queer is just another great example of the evolution of the New Zealand comedy scene. “With any art form, the more varied, the better,” he says, going on to praise Auckland’s Basement Theatre’s ‘Spanglish’ Latin comedy nights, and James Mustapic & Malcolm’s No Homo queer comedy nights. “Variety is the spice of life,” he exclaims with glee. 

It’s clear how passionate Tom is about the craft of comedy as he breaks down the skills possessed by his favourite comedians that most impress him. 

“In terms of performance, Melissa McCarthy’s rhythm is really inspiring. In terms of acting, Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm is fantastic. In terms of a comedy special, I know he’s controversial, but Ricky Gervais. I enjoy his confidence. He just bolts on through and seems to be impervious to the criticisms.”

This brings us to Tom’s personal comedy heroes, who themselves are a varied bunch.

It’s unsurprising that British powerhouse duo French & Saunders sit at the top of his list. He tells us he recently discovered how funny silent movie star Charlie Chaplin was (“I was laughing out loud”) and praises Aotearoa’s own Chris Parker (“He really influences me. His ideas are so spot on”). 

By the time you read this, Tom will be representing Kiwi comedy in Hollywood. Come celebrate his success and the diversity of all New Zealand comedy, when the International Comedy Festival hits Auckland and Wellington next month.

Tom Sainsbury performs his show Gone Bananas on 9 – 12 May at Te Auaha, Wellington, and 16 – 19 May at Q Theatre, Auckland as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival with Best Foods Mayo. During the Festival he’ll also co-host Wellington’s Loud & Queer on Saturday 20 May at St James Theatre.

Article | Oliver Hall.

Photo | Amanda Billing.